By Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

JACKSBORO, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee man who was among the last surviving members of the World War II jungle fighting unit known as Merrill’s Marauders has died at age 99.

James Eubaun Richardson of Jacksboro was among nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers deployed in 1944 on a secret mission behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied Burma. They battled hunger, disease and enemy troops while trekking roughly 1,000 miles (1,610 kilometers) to capture a Japanese-held airfield.

Barely 200 of the soldiers remained in the fight at the mission’s end, including Richardson - who kept going despite malaria and a bullet wound to his shoulder.

“I felt like dad never thought he was quite going to die,” Richardson’s daughter, Judy Robinson, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “He had a grit that just seemed to stay with him.”

Richardson was one of just nine surviving Merrill’s Marauders earlier this year when Congress voted to award the unit its highest honor: the Congressional Gold Medal.

“He said the ones that really deserved it were the ones who never came home,” Robinson said.

She said her father died Sunday after being hospitalized with complications from a progressive respiratory illness.

In Burma, Richardson was often dispatched alone into the jungle to deliver messages between officers, his daughter said. He earned a dozen medals including a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Richardson left the Army in 1945 and returned home to Tennessee, where he spent three decades working at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge complex that made materials for nuclear bombs.

Robinson said her father stayed active throughout his life. He often attended events at Fort Benning, Georgia, where soldiers of the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment consider themselves proud descendants of Merrill’s Marauders.

She said Richardson also continued driving and clearing brush outside his home with a tractor until he was 98.

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